By Brian Feeney
The current impasse at Stormont is the price everyone here has to pay for the DUP’s exercise in political dishonesty in spring 2007.
Remember the dirty dozen who signed a statement rejecting the St Andrews Agreement? In order to placate them, for they were mostly senior figures in the party, the DUP leadership couldn’t admit they had made a deal to share power with republicans on the condition that Sinn Féin signed up to policing.
Perhaps even more seriously, the DUP couldn’t admit to their voters what they had agreed, so they spent the first three months of 2007 denying something they knew they were going to do after the assembly elections in March.
They couldn’t admit it because they went to the polls presenting themselves as the hard men who were going to “resist Sinn Féin demands” whereas in truth they had already given in to those demands.
The dirty dozen remain in the party, dragging on it like a sea anchor but Jim Allister left to perform the role of the ancient mariner, reminding the party of their dreadful deed in 2007. Would it not be easier for him to don a sandwich board instead of an albatross and cry, “Woe, woe and thrice woe” up at Stormont?
Incredibly, he has the DUP running scared.
They still have to peddle the lie that the Good Friday Agreement has been superceded by the St Andrews Agreement when everyone knows St Andrews was a fig-leaf to cover the DUP’s embarrassment at signing up to the same deal they had reviled in 1998.
Yet when it suits them the DUP, including disgracefully its weak leader, disown parts of the St Andrews Agreement.
By a remarkable coincidence the parts of St Andrews they disown are exactly those which were crucial to Sinn Féin’s acceptance of St Andrews - policing and justice and the Irish language.
DUP politicians choose not to recall that Tony Blair spent most of his 2006 Christmas Caribbean holiday on the phone to Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley stitching together the deal, the terms of which the DUP know full well, namely that Sinn Féin would sign up to support policing only if policing and justice were devolved to the northern administration and that was to happen in May 2008.
It’s a matter of urgency to resolve this dispute because the longer it continues the more likely it will become an item in next year’s European election campaign.
What’s it got to do with Europe? Precisely nothing but every election here is a referendum in both communities and the DUP are stupid enough to let the campaign become a contest between themselves and Jim Allister about who is toughest with Sinn Féin.
You can see how worried the DUP are about next June because they haven’t named their candidate yet.
Not that Allister is likely to beat the DUP candidate but he could take enough votes to let the Sinn Féin candidate top the poll or leave the DUP candidate waiting for transfers from the UUP’s invisible man, or both. Result - humiliation for Robinson.
With a dull, uninspiring pettifogging bean-counter, or rather tie-counter, like Robinson leading the party his temptation will be to do nothing, take no risk, which will leave him in exactly the same position as he is now before the inevitable British general election in 2010 or earlier.
That’s why Sinn Féin are pressing for a solution now. Robinson hasn’t the political nous to see it but it’s better to jump now, shoot Allister’s fox. Show some strength. Get it over and done with. It’s inevitable.
Unfortunately he won’t. He’s turning into the DUP’s version of Jim Molyneaux, someone who believes that doing anything is always worse than doing nothing.
His posture is guaranteed to paint himself into a corner.
His petulant noises about ‘republicans’ are like a Brendan Behan character, the man who would rather be indignant than angry.
How then does he execute the unavoidable about-turn and implement the remaining parts of the St Andrews Agreement when he’s spooked by a political pipsqueak like Allister?
Who would have thought there’d be a DUP leader weak enough to be looking over his shoulder at someone more right-wing?